Red Pen Diaries: The Solutions Problem

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I've got a problem with solutions. Well, it's not solutions, per se, but the WORD "solutions." Actually, it's not even the word "solutions"; it's the notion that all you have to do is throw that word onto your home page and the world will beat a path to your door.

But "solutions" in this context — or, more precisely, lack of context — has little meaning; it doesn't say anything. OF COURSE you provide solutions, for a price — that's what a business is. Sadly, "solutions" has become a cliché, much like the use of "passion" in a cover letter.

Industry solutions. Office solutions. IT solutions. Networking solutions. Enterprise solutions. Virtualization-technology solutions. Audio solutions. Staffing solutions. Hair-loss solutions. Data-protection solutions. Budgeting and reporting solutions. Product-development solutions. Daily living solutions. Distribution solutions. Solutions for corporate events. Solutions to community-based problems. Solutions for mobile computing. Blah blah blah blah blah.

Speaking of "virtualization-technology solutions," way back in 2005, our friends at Marketing Profs called "solutions" "the most overused word in technical marketing," writer Wendy Gibson urging readers to "avoid the nondescriptive 'solution.'" Judging by the litany above, lemming-like reliance on "solutions" has spread well beyond the tech arena.

Bottom line: If you're saying "solutions," you're not distinguishing yourself from your competition; you're failing to differentiate yourself in the marketplace.

If you're saying "solutions," you're failing to differentiate yourself in the marketplace.

There are several solutions to this problem. For one thing, you could use the more active "solve" or the more vernacular "deal with" (though for my money, I'd go with "vanquish"). Or if you're intent on providing a noun, why not "an answer," "a remedy," "a positive outcome," "a way out," a "dynamite denouement?" (Okay, even I wouldn't use that one.) What about supplying "the key?" Prefer to stick with a plural? "Results," anyone?

For that matter, why not try showing instead of telling? Even a single case study can make a potential customer or client understand in a flash — feel it on a gut level — what you can do for her that no one else can. Because that narrative is yours and yours alone, which clearly can't be said for "solutions."

Sometimes "solution" is exactly the right word, perhaps the only word that will do. But when it comes to branding your product or service, it's quickly becoming an empty word, or worse, a word that transmits the message: "I'm just not that good at messaging." Hmm ... I wonder what else you're just not that good at.

Month after month, we hear that consumers still aren't buying, despite extensive economic stimuli. Providers of goods and services must work harder than ever to cut through the marketing clutter. One response to the problem is to avoid "solutions."

Have you found effective branding language that doesn't involve "solutions?" Feel like bitching about some other innocent word now irreparably sullied by its recasting as business jargon? Problem solved — just drop us an e-mail.